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Jews on selection ramp at Auschwitz, May 1944
The phrase "life unworthy of life" (in German : "Lebensunwertes Leben") was a Nazi designation for the segments of the populace which, according to the Nazi regime of the time, had no right to live. Those individuals were targeted to be euthanized by the state, usually through the compulsion or deception of their caretakers. The term included people with serious medical problems and those considered grossly inferior according to the racial policy of Nazi Germany. This concept formed an important component of the ideology of Nazism and eventually helped lead to the Holocaust. It is similar to but more restrictive than the concept of "Untermensch", subhumans, as not all "subhumans" were considered unworthy of life (Slavs, for instance, were deemed useful for slave labor).
German is a West Germanic language that is mainly spoken in Central Europe. It is the most widely spoken and official or co-official language in Germany, Austria, Switzerland, South Tyrol (Italy), the German-speaking Community of Belgium, and Liechtenstein. It is also one of the three official languages of Luxembourg and a co-official language in the Opole Voivodeship in Poland. The languages which are most similar to German are the other members of the West Germanic language branch: Afrikaans, Dutch, English, the Frisian languages, Low German/Low Saxon, Luxembourgish, and Yiddish. There are also strong similarities in vocabulary with Danish, Norwegian and Swedish, although those belong to the North Germanic group. German is the second most widely spoken Germanic language, after English.
The right to life is a moral principle based on the belief that a human being has the right to live and, in particular, should not be killed by another human being. The concept of a right to life arises in debates on issues of capital punishment, war, abortion, euthanasia, justifiable homicide, animal welfare and public health care. Various individuals who identify with pro-life views may disagree on which areas this principle applies, such as issues previously listed.
Involuntary euthanasia occurs when euthanasia is performed on a person who would be able to provide informed consent, but does not, either because they do not want to die, or because they were not asked.
The euthanasia program was officially adopted in 1939 and came through the personal decision of Adolf Hitler. It grew in extent and scope from Aktion T4 ending officially in 1941 when public protests stopped the program, through the Action 14f13 against concentration camp inmates. The euthanasia of people with disabilities continued more discreetly until the end of World War II. The methods used initially at German hospitals such as lethal injections and bottled gas poisoning were expanded to form the basis for the creation of extermination camps where the gas chambers were built from scratch to conduct the extermination of the Jews, Poles, and Romani.
Adolf Hitler was a German politician and leader of the Nazi Party. He rose to power to become dictator of Germany, serving as Chancellor from 1933 and Führer ("Leader") from 1934. During his dictatorship from 1933 to 1945, he initiated World War II in Europe by invading Poland in September 1939. He closely supervised military operations during the war and by December 1941 had full control of all strategic decisions, especially on the Eastern Front. He was central to the perpetration of the Holocaust.
Aktion T4 was a postwar name for mass murder through involuntary euthanasia in Nazi Germany. The name T4 is an abbreviation of Tiergartenstraße 4, a street address of the Chancellery department set up in the spring of 1940, in the Berlin borough of Tiergarten, which recruited and paid personnel associated with T4. Certain German physicians were authorized to select patients "deemed incurably sick, after most critical medical examination" and then administer to them a "mercy death". In October 1939, Adolf Hitler signed a "euthanasia note", backdated to 1 September 1939, which authorized his physician Karl Brandt and Reichsleiter Philipp Bouhler to implement the programme.
Action 14f13, also called "Sonderbehandlung14f13" and Aktion 14f13, was a campaign by Nazi Germany to terminate Nazi concentration camp prisoners. Also called invalid or prisoner euthanasia, the campaign culled the sick, elderly and those deemed no longer fit for work, from the rest of the prisoners in a selection process, after which they were killed. The Nazi campaign was in operation from 1941 to 1944 and later covered other groups of concentration camp prisoners.
The expression first appeared in print via the title of a 1920 book, Die Freigabe der Vernichtung Lebensunwerten Lebens (Allowing the Destruction of Life Unworthy of Life) by two professors, the jurist Karl Binding (retired from the University of Leipzig) and psychiatrist Alfred Hoche from the University of Freiburg.According to Hoche, some living people who were brain damaged, intellectually disabled, autistic (though not recognized as such at the time), and psychiatrically ill were "mentally dead", "human ballast" and "empty shells of human beings". Hoche felt killing such people was useful. Some people were simply considered disposable. Later the killing was extended to people considered 'racially impure' or 'racially inferior' according to Nazi thinking.
Karl Ludwig Lorenz Binding was a German jurist known as a promoter of the theory of retributive justice. His influential book, Die Freigabe der Vernichtung lebensunwerten Lebens, written together with the psychiatrist Alfred Hoche, was used by the Nazis to justify their T-4 Euthanasia Program.
Alfred Erich Hoche was a German psychiatrist well known for his writings about eugenics and euthanasia.
The University of Freiburg, officially the Albert Ludwig University of Freiburg, is a public research university located in Freiburg im Breisgau, Baden-Württemberg, Germany. The university was founded in 1457 by the Habsburg dynasty as the second university in Austrian-Habsburg territory after the University of Vienna. Today, Freiburg is the fifth-oldest university in Germany, with a long tradition of teaching the humanities, social sciences and natural sciences. The university is made up of 11 faculties and attracts students from across Germany as well as from over 120 other countries. Foreign students constitute about 16% of total student numbers.
The concept culminated in Nazi extermination camps, instituted to systematically kill those who were unworthy to live according to Nazi ideologists. It also justified various human experimentation and eugenics programs, as well as Nazi racial policies.
Nazi human experimentation was a series of medical experiments on large numbers of prisoners, including children, by Nazi Germany in its concentration camps in the early to mid 1940s, during World War II and the Holocaust. Chief target populations included Romani, Sinti, ethnic Poles, Soviet POWs, disabled Germans, and Jews from across Europe.
Nazi eugenics were Nazi Germany's racially based social policies that placed the biological improvement of the Aryan race or Germanic "Übermenschen" master race through eugenics at the center of Nazi ideology. In Germany, eugenics were mostly known under the synonymous term racial hygiene. Following the Second World War, both terms effectively vanished and were replaced by Humangenetik.
According to the author of Medical Killing and the Psychology of Genocide psychiatrist Robert Jay Lifton, the policy went through a number of iterations and modifications:
A psychiatrist is a physician who specializes in psychiatry, the branch of medicine devoted to the diagnosis, prevention, study, and treatment of mental disorders. Psychiatrists are medical doctors, unlike psychologists, and must evaluate patients to determine whether their symptoms are the result of a physical illness, a combination of physical and mental ailments, or strictly psychiatric.
Robert Jay Lifton is an American psychiatrist and author, chiefly known for his studies of the psychological causes and effects of wars and political violence and for his theory of thought reform. He was an early proponent of the techniques of psychohistory.
Of the five identifiable steps by which the Nazis carried out the principle of "life unworthy of life," coercive sterilization was the first. There followed the killing of "impaired" children in hospitals; and then the killing of "impaired" adults, mostly collected from mental hospitals, in centers especially equipped with carbon monoxide gas. This project was extended (in the same killing centers) to "impaired" inmates of concentration and extermination camps and, finally, to mass killings in the extermination camps themselves.
Nazi Germany maintained concentration camps throughout the territories it controlled before and during the Second World War. The first Nazi camps were erected in Germany in March 1933 immediately after Hitler became Chancellor and his Nazi Party was given control of the police by Reich Interior Minister Wilhelm Frick and Prussian Acting Interior Minister Hermann Göring. Used to hold and torture political opponents and union organizers, the camps initially held around 45,000 prisoners. In 1933–1939, before the onset of war, most prisoners consisted of German Communists, Socialists, Social Democrats, Roma, Jehovah's Witnesses, homosexuals, and persons accused of 'asocial' or socially 'deviant' behavior by the Germans.
Nazi Germany built extermination camps during the Holocaust in World War II, to systematically kill millions of Jews, Slavs Poles, Roma, Soviet POWs, political opponents and others whom the Nazis considered "Untermenschen" ("subhumans"). The victims of death camps were primarily killed by gassing, either in permanent installations constructed for this specific purpose, or by means of gas vans. Some Nazi camps, such as Auschwitz and Majdanek, served a dual purpose before the end of the war in 1945: extermination by poison gas, but also through extreme work under starvation conditions.
Karl Brandt was a German physician and Schutzstaffel (SS) officer in Nazi Germany. Trained in surgery, Brandt joined the Nazi Party in 1932 and became Adolf Hitler's escort doctor in August 1934. A member of Hitler's inner circle at the Berghof, he was selected by Philipp Bouhler, the head of Hitler's Chancellery, to administer the Aktion T4 euthanasia program. Brandt was later appointed the Reich Commissioner of Sanitation and Health. Accused of involvement in human experimentation and other war crimes, Brandt was indicted in late 1946 and faced trial before a U.S. military tribunal along with 22 others in United States of America v. Karl Brandt, et al. He was convicted, sentenced to death, and later hanged on 2 June 1948.
A gas chamber is an apparatus for killing humans or other animals with gas, consisting of a sealed chamber into which a poisonous or asphyxiant gas is introduced. The most commonly used poisonous agent is hydrogen cyanide; carbon dioxide and carbon monoxide have also been used. Gas chambers were used as a method of execution for condemned prisoners in the United States beginning in the 1920s and continue to be a legal execution method in three states. During the Holocaust, large-scale gas chambers designed for mass killing were used by Nazi Germany as part of their genocide program. The use of gas chambers in North Korea has also been reported.
The Doctors' trial was the first of 12 trials for war crimes of German doctors that the United States authorities held in their occupation zone in Nuremberg, Germany, after the end of World War II. These trials were held before US military courts, not before the International Military Tribunal, but took place in the same rooms at the Palace of Justice. The trials are collectively known as the "Subsequent Nuremberg Trials", formally the "Trials of War Criminals before the Nuremberg Military Tribunals" (NMT).
The term racial hygiene was used to describe an approach to eugenics in the early twentieth century, which found its most extensive implementation in Nazi Germany. It was marked by efforts to avoid miscegenation, analogous to an animal breeder seeking purebred animals. This was often motivated by belief in a racial hierarchy and the related fear that lower races would "contaminate" a higher one. As with most eugenicists at the time, racial hygienists believed that lack of eugenics would lead to rapid social degeneration, the decline of civilisation by the spread of inferior characteristics.
Christian Wirth was a German policeman and SS officer who was one of the leading architects of the program to exterminate the Jewish people of Poland, known as Operation Reinhard. His nicknames included Christian the Terrible and The Wild Christian.
Ernst-Robert Grawitz was a German physician and an SS functionary during the Nazi era.
Hermann Paul Nitsche was a German psychiatrist known for his expert endorsement of the Third Reich's euthanasia authorization and who later headed the Medical Office of the T-4 Euthanasia Program.
The Hadamar Euthanasia Centre was a psychiatric hospital located in the German town of Hadamar, near Limburg in Hesse, from 1941 to 1945.
Ewald Meltzer was a German director of an asylum in Saxony whose work had an influence on the Nazis to justify their T-4 Euthanasia Program.
The Sonnenstein Euthanasia Clinic was a Nazi euthanasia or extermination centre located in the former fortress of Sonnenstein Castle near Pirna in eastern Germany, where a hospital had been established in 1811.
The Hartheim Euthanasia Centre was a killing centre involved in the Nazi euthanasia programme, also referred to as Action T4. The killing centre was housed in Hartheim Castle in the municipality of Alkoven, near Linz, Austria.
The Brandenburg Euthanasia Centre, officially known as the Brandenburg an der Havel State Welfare Institute was established in 1939 and acted during the Nazi era as a killing centre as part of the Nazi Euthanasia Programme, subsequently referred to after the war as Action T4.
The Nazi Euthanasia Centre at Bernburg operated from 21 November 1940 to 30 July 1943 in a separate wing of the State Sanatorium and Mental Hospital in Bernburg on the River Saale in the German state of Saxony-Anhalt. It was one of several euthanasia centres run by the Nazis under their official "Euthanasia Programme", later referred to after the war as Action T4. A total of 9,384 sick and handicapped people from 33 welfare institutions and nursing homes as well as around 5,000 prisoners from six concentration camps were killed here in a gas chamber using carbon monoxide gas.
The T4-Gutachter were medical experts who were employed by the Zentraldienststelle-T4 to organize and carry out the Action T4 "euthanasia" program in Nazi Germany. Based on reporting forms with information about the mentally ill and disabled, they decided who would be the victims killed by gas in "euthanasia" centers. An internal document from the organization T4 shows a list of 40 physicians who were among those who worked for Action T4.